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Jim France: IMSA’s blockbuster news could herald new ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jim France is hoping that Friday’s announcement of re-creating a sports car bridge from Daytona to Le Mans will resemble a recent Hollywood blockbuster

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, the chairman of IMSA and CEO of NASCAR. “I can’t control what the manufacturers do and how they approach it, but the opportunity will certainly be there.”

In a joint news conference with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (the ACO is the global sanctioning body for sports cars), IMSA announced that its new DPI car for 2022 will be eligible to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The rebranded class will be known as Le Mans Daytona h (LMD h) and allow crossover between the top categories in IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship (whose top division will be Hypercar). Currently, the LMP2 and GTLM classes of IMSA can run at Le Mans, but its premier division isn’t eligible for the world’s biggest sports car event.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” (an Academy Award-nominated film released last fall that stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale) chronicles a bygone era in which it was possible for a manufacturer such as Ford to win the top class of both prestigious races.

During a rare interview with reporters after the news conference, France said he is optimistic that the new regulations will goose manufacturer involvement.

“The proof will be when we have a car that wins Daytona and wins Le Mans in the same year, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” France said.

He also is “very much so” looking forward to the return of NASCAR to Daytona International Speedway next month. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus is on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

Will Power nips Jack Harvey at finish to pace Road America practice

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Will Power led the only IndyCar Road America practice of the weekend Saturday, shooting to the top of the chart on his 22nd and final lap of the session at 1 minute, 46.0021 seconds in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet.

Dixon knocked Jack Harvey’s No. 60 Dallara-Honda from the top spot (which would have marked the first time that a Meyer-Shank Racing car led practice).

Josef Newgarden, Power’s Team Penske teammate, was third, followed by Felix Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay (who went off course late in the session but sustained no damage).

Alex Palou, Colton Herta, Graham Rahal, defending race winner Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward rounded out the top 10 in the practice that preceded a Saturday-Sunday race weekend doubleheader for IndyCar at Road America.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Click here to see who was fastest in the session

RACE INFORMATION: What you need to know for today’s REV Group Grand Prix

RATED ROOKIE: Rinus VeeKay rebounding well from a tough debut

IndyCar tested some new cooling devices with cars from Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Several drivers have said the cockpit heat caused by the new aeroscreen was stifling during last week’s GMR Grand Prix, and IndyCar repositioned drink bottles this weekend to keep liquids cool. The pieces tried by IndyCar during the Road America practice won’t be available during the races Saturday and Sunday at the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, road course.

Scott Dixon, who is seeking to open the season with his third consecutive IndyCar victory, was 15th fastest in the 75-minute session. Other notables in Road America practice: Marco Andretti (12th), Simon Pagenaud (19th).

Power is aiming for his second consecutive pole position after qualifying first last week on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Qualifying for the REV Group Grand Prix Race #1 will take place at 2:15 p.m. ET (NBCSNNBC Sports Gold).

The broadcast of the IndyCar race at Road America will begin at 5 p.m. on NBCSN.